Meet a Semilocal Cartoonist: A Chat with Ben Hatke
Ben Hatke actually lives in Front Royal, Va., but we'll call him local: He does book signings here, most recently at the Capicons convention and Big Planet Comics. The classically trained artist with an infectious grin works well with kids—at his Politics & Prose talk for his first book, he ended it with a backflip, according to cartoonist David Hagen, who reports being one of only a few adults in the room.
I count Hatke's "Zita" graphic novels among my favorites. He's also self-published a couple of collections of the autobiographical comic strips he runs on his blog, which star his wife and three daughters. Those strips happen to also reveal some details about his arrest record.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Ben Hatke: I do a few different things in comics, but I’m mainly known as the author and artist of the "Zita the Spacegirl" trilogy. Zita’s story is a science-fiction space adventure about a girl’s journey to return to Earth after being stranded worlds from home. It’s an all-ages tale, and I hope it’s “all ages” in the Pixar sense—where there’s something for everyone to love. I also do intermittent journal comics, short robot comics, and other small projects.
WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?
BH: A combination. For big, 200-page books I draw the pages in traditional ink, using pens and a bit of brushwork, and then scan and color in Photoshop. Shorter comics I tend to watercolor.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
BH: Ha! I was born at the end of the '70s.
WCP: Why are you in the Washington area now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
BH: I’m about an hour out from D.C., in the country. Actually pretty close to the George Washington National Forest.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
BH: The only real art training I’ve had that has not been self-study was through a very classical, academic painting program in Florence, Italy. But believe me, it made a huge difference in my cartooning!
WCP: Who are your influences?
BH: Hayao Miyazaki, Jim Henson, Brian Froud, Wendy and Richard Pini, Howard Pyle, Bill Watterson, Trina Schart Hyman... Really there are so many.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do over or change?
BH: When my wife and I were first married, we had an apartment and I had a couple “regular jobs” that I went to while she worked on finishing school. I wish we had gotten a small school bus, converted it to a living space, and driven it up and down the west coast making art and living on nothing.
WCP: What work are you best known for?
BH: Oh the Zita books. Definitely.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
BH: That’s a tough one since I do a lot of different things. I really am proud of Legends of Zita the Spacegirl because it went through so many drafts and came out well in the end.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
BH: I would really like to do my very own superhero story and knock it out of the park.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
BH: I walk. I’m a big believer in the idea that the legs and the brain are connected.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
BH: Hard to say. I’m in comics and picture books. I think there will always be comics and picture books.
WCP: What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?
BH: I love SPX! I don’t get to it every year, but I do enjoy it.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
BH: This little restaurant in Chinatown.
WCP: Least favorite?
BH: When we all drive in to the city to go to the museums and my girls want to go to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and I want to go to the National Gallery and I get outvoted. It’s not D.C.’s fault. Dinosaur exhibits will always get more love than Impressionist paintings.
WCP: What monument or museum do like to take visitors to?
BH: The National Gallery!
WCP: How about a favorite local restaurant?
BH: I wish I could remember the name of that place in Chinatown. They make such amazing dumplings... [Ed. note: Could he be referring to Chinatown Express?]
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?